Child marriages hardly a Muslim issue only

Marina Mahathir (second from right) with other activists at the launch of the campaign to raise the age of marriage to 18.

PETALING JAYA: An NGO is urging the country to stop viewing child marriages as a Muslim issue, saying there were more cases involving non-Muslims.

The Women’s Aid Organisation said in 2017 alone there were 968 applications for marriages of non-Muslim children.

There were only 877 applications for Muslim children two years ago.

“These statistics from the home affairs ministry should help clear the misunderstanding and misconceptions surrounding child marriages.

“Child marriages is not just a Muslim issue — it is a Malaysian issue. It’s a community issue,” said Meera Samanther, vice-president of the Women’s Aid Organisation.

She said young boys were also at risk when it came to child marriages.

“Children are too young to know better. They experiment with their sexuality and are persuaded to get married so that they do not bring shame to their families.”

(From left) Sisters In Islam chief executive Rozana Isa, Body Shop Malaysia managing director Mina Cheah-Foong, Women’s Aid Organisation vice-president Meera Samanther and Association of Women’s Lawyers member Sheena Gurbakshah at the launch of the campaign against child marriages.

She spoke after the “Walk the Talk to End Child Marriage” event, jointly organised by The Body Shop Malaysia, Women’s Aid Organisation (WAO), Sisters in Islam (SIS), and the Association of Women Lawyers (AWL).

It marked the launch of a petition campaign to urge the government to raise the minimum age of marriage to 18.

Recently, a 41-year-old rubber tapper took an 11-year-old Thai girl as his third wife in Kelantan, leading to a debate on child marriages.

The event was also attended by social activist Marina Mahathir, Housing and Government Minister Zuraida Kamarrudin and Batu Kawan MP Kasthuri Patto.

Body Shop Malaysia managing director Mina Cheah-Foong said her company hoped the government will raise the minimum age of marriage to 18, regardless of racial or religious backgrounds.

Association of Women’s Lawyers’ member Sheena Gurbakshah said the campaign organisers aimed to collect 80,000 signatures to show solidarity among Malaysians on the matter.

“Already, 18,000 Malaysians have signed the petition. We aim to have 80,000 by the end of September to provide the government with concrete proof that we need to protect the rights of our children.”

Sisters In Islam chief executive Rozana Isa said Malaysians can show their support through social media by using the #EndChildMarriage tag.